One of the most challenging experiences a Nigerian [or other African nationals] in Diaspora will ever face is encountered within the paradox of deciding either remaining in a foreign land permanently or going back home for good.
The special case of Nigerians or other Africans in Diaspora is that they always want to go back home, regardless. Apparently, nationals from the European, Asian or Latin America and Australian continents find it easy to settle in another man’s and take it as their permanent home. The ‘Ontology of the African’ is perhaps responsible for this peculiar migration problem and is dealt with sufficiently in previous [and future] articles in this zine.
Many leave the shores of Africa into Diaspora to more stable societies or economies in search of a better life with exaggerated expectations. Post-colonial African societies are increasingly becoming de-civilised by their leaders who thoroughly eschew the necessary standards and interests of modern society [though thrives untiringly on its rhetoric] and focus relentlessly on primitive accumulation – the economics of the stomach. The pressing necessity to leave Africa for greener pastures grows daily.
The “better life” in Diaspora [economic and social] is a very elusive achievement for the exile in a strange land. The inescapable challenges of starting at bottom of the labour ladder no matter your professional experience or academic qualifications is anything from tough to distressing for most. Then there is the fragile social life of a foreigner in unfamiliar terrain that necessarily demands subservience and caution to ensure whatever safety and security that is obtainable. Black skin colour, an unfamiliar accent and unexpected culture shock does not help. Success is often slow in coming.
The “Diaspora Paradox” is simple, the more successful (academically, professionally or entrepreneurially) the Nigerian in Diaspora becomes the less he or she wants to make it his or her home – they want to go back home to Nigeria to “establish” themselves. Those who have no means are unlikely to be able to establish themselves back home regardless of what desires they might have. This is paradoxical because one would have thought that achieving success in a well-run modern society and the benefits it has to offer would be an obvious strong incentive for a person to not want to return to a badly run one, where attaining and sustaining success is very uncertain in all spheres. Those who have very good opportunities to return home mostly do not think twice about it. The Diaspora Paradox begets the “Diaspora Dilemma”, which is the mind-twisting choice between remaining in Diaspora and going back home. It is an incredibly difficult choice to make with too many odds to consider.
Becoming successful in the mainstream of a foreign society as a foreigner by honest means is an undertaking that has neither short cuts nor easy pathways. The cost can be hereditary and hubris can easily ruin it. Some have described it as “like fighting an enemy in darkness” because of the initial information deficits they suffered. Nigerians are famous for hiding useful information from each other unless they can sufficiently benefit from doing so and citizens of the host country have not obligation to tell it to foreigners.
Empowering information mostly comes from the hosts when they start to trust you. Those that have chosen ‘quick routes’ to success risk [and usually experience] either spending time in jail [which makes economic or social success even more elusive] or returning home as a fugitive escaping justice in a foreign land or returning home as a deportee illegally living abroad. However, when honest [or dishonest] success is ultimately achieved, moderate or great, it usually presents a major and intractable paradox for Nigerians [Africans] living in Diaspora.
Spending one’s last days in Nigeria is much a cherished abstraction as a real expectation; it takes the experiences of others to contemplate it. The dominant allure that feeds the Diaspora Paradox is often the metaphorical equivalent of the search for El Dorado. Casual peer review of the “haves” they encounter in their short trips to Nigeria is strongly underpinned by strong cognitive biases which renders their evaluations of success in Nigeria as easy. The thinking is that if you have the right connections and some capital or some valuable skill you can certainly make it big in Nigeria in a very short time.
Making it big in Nigeria is composite of riches, recognition, chieftaincy titles, hedonism, conspicuous consumption and social immunity. A salient factor in this bias is that a classmate, relative or friend who was comparatively far less street-wise, far less intelligent, far less capable and far less organised than you were has now made it big. The sole wisdom here is “if he can do it, I can do it better”. Such people tend to forget that their peers who did go on to make in Diaspora were similarly underrated. Information that 110 million Nigerians live on less than $2 a day or the burden of the cost of living against income is becoming unbearable for the middle-class never registers in their minds, they can only see the fortunes of those that made it big. They are on the side of the “Bad Nigeria” and worse.
If one cuts through the illusions of positive thinking literature, prosperity preaching and magic charms, men and women of great wealth or affluence are “wards of good fortune” rather than “conquerors of misfortune”. Time and place delivers riches not just thought and effort. Laziness has produced as many millionaires as hard work in Nigeria and this fuels the allure further. In fact, many in Diaspora are like vultures seeking to circle and take advantage the mindless rapacity, hyper corruption and weakness of institutions that characterises the Nigerian [African] system. “Going home to exploit” is their covert motto but when spoken it sounds like “Going home develop society or to serve”. Some actually do good for Nigeria when return home; few. Such people strive for a “Good Nigeria” without success.
The sometimes overwhelming desire to go back home to settle in a country that is very hard live in may seem very irrational. However, there is something inexplicably spiritual about it for many. A stranger in strange is often always an outsider [exceptions exist] and people want to be accepted in society as “one of the people” but then one is incessantly reminded that this is not your home. There are many who want to belong in Diaspora but are not allowed even if they are high achieving model citizens. This is another strong incentive for many to want to return home. There are those who cannot hack living in a foreign land and would return home if it obviously means dying. I wonder how many of such people there are.
Bringing self-reflection into the equation, misfortune and a lack of success has decided the Dilemma for many. There are those who are too ill to go back home; a lack of medical facilities and costs would easily kill them in under a year sometimes weeks. Some are too economically underachieved to return home; no skills, no capital, no assets. Bad experiences like suffering car crashes, falling terribly ill, being a victim of armed robbery, being swindled by loved ones, costly promises being unfulfilled while in Nigeria can be traumatic enough for Nigerian born individual visiting home to develop a strong aversion for the country.
Extremes of success is also useful in deciding the tricky Dilemma. What will make a top brain or heart surgeon at a leading world centre for his or her expertise in the UK or USA return to Nigeria to do? Would you ask Chiwetel Ejiofor or David Oyelowo to return home to be a Nollywood actor? The same goes for Nigerians who have gotten to the top of career ladder in Diaspora particularly in specialties that have no scope in Nigeria like automobile design, nuclear reactor management, aircraft manufacture, opera singing, ballistics forensics.
The responsibilities of married life and child raising can keep some people in Diaspora permanently whether they marry a Nigerian or foreign spouse. This is a much weaker incentive to keep a Nigerian person in Diaspora permanently if recorded experience is anything to go by. Relatively, too few people will remain in Diaspora for love of spouse and child alone even though they are very willing to let their spouses “hold the ground” for them when they leave for Nigeria.
It would be logical to surmise that those who are afflicted most by the Diaspora Paradox and Dilemma are those who in upper middle-class income brackets rather than those not too far above misfortune zone. A serious cause for worry is that there are those men and women of great potential who left Nigeria and never returned home to settle ever again whether they were successful or not; those who are “trapped” in the Diaspora Dilemma dread such an end.
Many have come to regret the move home if they ever made the choice and returned to Diaspora much worse off, while it worked out well for many others. Such mixed fortunes fuel the Diaspora Dilemma endlessly; many can never make up their minds and end up spending the rest of their lives often regretting in old age when it is too late that they were not bold enough to make the decision to go back home to settle. The majority who do leave Diaspora and return home invariably do so with solid insurance. The insurance, based of foreign citizenship is that is if things do not work out after they return home, they can always go back abroad to some sort of safety.